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Multiple Mobilities, Multiple Sovereignties, Multiple Speeds: Exploring Maritime Connections in the Age of Empire

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 September 2016

Valeska Huber*
Research Fellow, German Historical Institute London, London, UK; e-mail:


What can we gain by looking at maritime spaces? Does this enable us to work towards a global history of the Middle East that moves beyond at times arbitrary geographical and disciplinary borders? In this essay I argue that maritime spaces might be particularly suitable for exploring the boundaries of Middle East studies and their interconnection with global history. By implication, the study of Middle Eastern maritime connections might be especially well fitted to develop new and more complex global histories. To make this point, a specific and perhaps unusual maritime site in the Middle East will be assessed. The Suez Canal opened in 1869 and quickly turned into a major artery of traffic between Europe on the one side, and Asia, East Africa, and Australia on the other. More importantly for our purposes, it is located at the very heart of the Middle East, where Africa and Asia, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea (and with it the Indian Ocean world), and water and desert intersect.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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1 Huber, Valeska, Channelling Mobilities: Migration and Globalisation in the Suez Canal Region and Beyond, 1869–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)Google Scholar.

2 For such a focus on flows and connections, see, for instance, Rosenberg, Emily S., A World Connecting, 1870–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)Google Scholar.

3 The histories of one commodity are especially legion by now. For a recent work, see Beckert, Sven, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)Google Scholar.

4 See, for instance, Missal, Alexander, Seaway to the Future: American Social Visions and the Construction of the Panama Canal (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008)Google Scholar; Green, Julie, The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal (New York: Penguin, 2009)Google Scholar; and Maurer, Noel, The Big Ditch: How America Took, Built, Ran and Ultimately Gave Away the Panama Canal (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011)Google Scholar.

5 Fawaz, Leila Tarazi and Bayly, C. A., eds., Modernity and Culture: From the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002)Google Scholar. It is no coincidence that the book carries an image of the Suez Canal on the cover.

6 See, for instance, Will Hanley, Nationality Grasped: Identification, Protection, and Law in Turn-of-the-Century Alexandria (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming); and Arsan, Andrew, Interlopers of Empire: The Lebanese Diaspora in Colonial French West Africa (London: Hurst, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 For literature on the Panama Canal, see n. 4. See also Tagliacozzo, Eric, Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865–1915 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2005)Google Scholar.